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Hitting the right note: Newcastle University supports rural arts in Northumberland


Northumberland’s proud musical heritage is being highlighted by a Newcastle University project to support rural arts.

The Northumbrian Exchanges initiative was set up to support rural communities by stimulating economic development through cultural activity, helping countryside residents get more involved with music and art and supporting businesses in those areas.

Now, the village of Tarset, near Kielder, has its very own ceilidh band, with 16 members aged between eight and 80. The community had long wanted its own ceilidh band so the people who live in the village and the surrounding area would no longer have to travel far to perform. A partnership between Tarset Village Hall and the University, supported through the Northumbrian Exchanges project, helped to get the group going.

The band is run by Newcastle University folk music graduate Nathan Armstrong. He said: “Traditional music has always been appreciated in the North Tyne valley, whether it's a ceilidh on Boxing night, a concert in the village hall, or a good old sing in the pub. This project gave musicians the opportunity to play together on a regular basis without the need to travel far and wide.

“Our focus is on the music of Northumberland and the ceilidh repertoire, however we are investigating other traditions. The reaction from the members of the ceilidh band has been fantastic. This has really filled a gap for the parish of Tarset and surrounding areas.”

On Wednesday 19 March, as part of Northumbrian Exchanges, graduates of the University’s folk music degree, including fiddler Shona Mooney, will combine with some of the UK’s leading early music professionals including Renaisssance cornet player Jamie Savan, to perform and explore the links between the North East’s traditional music and that of the late Renaissance and early Baroque. Their performance, which is also part of the University’s Early Music Festival, will include a specially commissioned piece Living by Memories, composed by Newcastle music graduate Matthew Rowan.

The £200k project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, looks at three key areas: music, visual arts and rural economies. Researchers have worked closely with Allenheads Contemporary Arts, Tarset based Visual Arts in Rural Communities and the Holy Island Partnership to investigate how such organisations can remain sustainable in the age of austerity.

Arts researcher Julie Crawshaw became a part-time resident on Lindisfarne as she sought to build an understanding of the priorities and interests of the people who lived there. She ran a series of workshops, including photography and dance at their request.

Project lead Professor Eric Cross said: “The recession has had a significant impact on the rural  economy and on arts organisations, which are finding funding increasingly hard to come by.

“However, these organisations can play a very important role in the life of a rural town or village and we wanted to look at the ways we could use the University’s expertise to support them. Our intention wasn’t to tell them what they should be doing, we wanted to hear their views and understand what they needed first so that we could work as a genuine partnership to develop appropriate solutions.

“This project has been incredibly diverse but also very rewarding. The arts are an important part of life – both in the pleasure they bring to people but also in the way they can bring prosperity to a community.  This project has provided fascinating evidence about this balance between cultural and economic value, as well as the differences between rural and urban contexts.”

The evening will also see the launch of a new CD recording of music from the project.

The Northumbrian Exchanges performance at the Early Music Festival on Wednesday 19 March will take place at 7.30pm in Newcastle University’s King’s Hall. Tickets are £5 or £3 for concessions.

published on: 17 March 2014